The Evidence Portal

Building skills including refusal skills, assertiveness skills and critical thinking skills

Flexible activity

This activity aims to build skills critical to self-efficacy[1] and dealing with difficult situations such as refusal, assertiveness and critical thinking skills. Refusal skill-building exercises involve scenario-based learning or practice in how to respond to pressure to engage in a risky or unhealthy behaviour or activity. Assertiveness skill-building involves practice in standing up for yourself or other people in a calm and positive way. Critical thinking skills, by contrast, involve analysis of an issue or situation and the capacity to make logical and informed decisions.

All of these skills cumulatively rely upon, and/or build self-efficacy and awareness of one’s capacity to respond to different scenarios in a positive and calm way. Practice building refusal, assertiveness and critical thinking skills will contribute to a young person’s self-confidence and self-efficacy over time, and facilitate healthy decision-making.

How can it be implemented?

Skill-building exercises are best delivered during in-person sessions either one-on-one or in groups. They can also be delivered via:

Roleplay or scenario-based learning:

  • Participants can be guided through scenarios that demonstrate the targeted skills and participate in role-play activities with other peers.

Interactive sessions and games:

  • Facilitators can demonstrate the targeted skill and encourage group discussion or group work around the skill.
  • Alternately, facilitators can provide games and educational quizzes that test the participants’ knowledge around a particular skill.

Who is the target group?

This flexible activity has been implemented with a number of different target groups. Key characteristics include:

  • 10th-grade female school students from rural and low-income high schools
  • Grade 9 high school students
  • 6-8th grade students aged 12-15
  • Sexual and gender minority young people aged 15-16
  • School students in grades 5 and 6 attending public elementary and middle schools in neighbourhoods with higher teenage pregnancy rates
  • Students enrolled in continuation high schools
  • Adolescent girls aged 13-14

What programs conduct this activity?

  • During the HEART (Health Education and Relationship Training) program, self-efficacy and assertiveness skills are emphasised via didactic training and modelling from same-age peers. Participants also practice refusal skills through an audio-recording and playback feature where they respond to hypothetical scenarios of sexual pressure from a partner (simulated by a prerecording of a male voice). The participant females then record and rate their own responses and continue practicing until they become more comfortable.
  • In Media Aware – High School, students learn skills needed to have effective sexual health conversations with romantic partners including sexual refusal and contraception negotiation skills.
  • During the IVRE + ER: Immersive Virtual Reality Environments (IVREs) paired with a Brief Emotion Regulation and Risk Reduction Intervention (ER), students learned about risky sexual behaviours and assertive communication skills and practiced these skills in an immersive virtual reality partner negotiation scene following a group session.
  • In No program name: online intervention, refusal skills relating to substance use were taught via an animated young adult narrator that led participants through tailored content and practice scenarios that included interactive games, role-playing and writing activities.
  • The STAR LO program comprised short theatre pieces or vignettes delivered to participants by professional actor-educator adults and focusing on building confidence and increasing self-efficacy in refusal skills.
  • During Project Towards No Drug Abuse (TND), students learn to examine their own level of self-control, how to match their behaviour to different social contexts and the importance of being assertive.
  • In RealTeen, young female participants were taught personal and social skills including skills relating to self-efficacy, communication and asserting one’s self. These sessions were delivered online and guided by an older female animated character.

Further resources

Last updated:

24 Nov 2022

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